Sharon Walls

We are very excited to announce that our newest ship, the Global Mercy™, is officially seaworthy after passing the final sea trials. This marks a major milestone for Mercy Ships and signals the approaching end of the construction process, started in 2015. Passing sea trials means the vessel can sail for an extended time as all systems are fully operational and meet strict industry standards. In other words: the Global Mercy is ready to sail.  

“These deep-water trials represent a critical checklist before delivery of our new purpose-built ship to become the platform for service it is designed to be. Trials systematically test operational aspects by putting the vessel through paces for an extended period at sea. I am pleased to say that the Global Mercy successfully passed every test,” stated Jim Paterson, Marine Executive Consultant for Mercy Ships.

Global Mercy Tour: From Asia to Europe to Africa
Before it launches into service to sub-Saharan Africa, the Global Mercy has some sailing to do. First, the ship will sail from the shipyard in Tianjin, China to Belgium as a guest in the Port of Antwerp. Here, we will complete several months of final outfitting, including installation of medical equipment and IT systems.

The Global Mercy will be stocked with supplies by the Mercy Ships European Distribution Center in Rotterdam. After opening the gangway to visits from the public in the Netherlands, the ship sets sail for Africa with the commissioning in Dakar, Senegal, and its first field service by early 2022.

More Than Double the Impact Long-Term

The Global Mercy is the world’s largest civilian hospital ship. The purpose-designed hospital decks are the unique heart of the ship, consisting of six operating theatres and hospital wards for 200 patients, as well as a laboratory and general outpatient, ophthalmology, and dental clinics. The ship has space for up to 950 persons in port and accommodations for 641 crew, comprised of volunteers from around the globe. The Global Mercy is specially equipped with first-class training facilities so we can contribute to the sustainable support of essential surgical and related skills for local healthcare professionals when docked. With the new ship, we will more than double our impact with life-changing surgeries and training of healthcare professionals over an anticipated 50-year lifespan.

Thanks to a Global Collaboration
With an overall length of 174-meters, a beam of 28.6 meters, and a gross tonnage of 37,000, the ship is a tailored passenger ship-class vessel. And we would not have come this far without our partners from all over the world. The Global Mercy has undergone construction at Tianjin Xingang Shipyard in China, with project management by Stena RoRo AB from Sweden and construction design by Deltamarine from Finland. The French ship brokerage company Barry Rogliano Salles (BRS) was instrumental in helping negotiate the contract. The new ship is classed by Lloyd’s Register in the United Kingdom who witnessed the important tests. The Global Mercy is flagged by Malta and will initially serve in Africa.

Sharon Walls

Is it time to put your faith into action in serving the poor?  From tradies and geeks to operating theatre nurses and more, Mercy Ships has a place for you onboard.

See how your life experience can play a vital part in the Mercy Ships mission

Sharon Walls

: Mums Who Make Hope and Healing Possible

Every story of hope and healing begins with a step of faith. And perhaps no step is greater than a mother choosing to trust a ship of strangers with her child. This Mother’s Day, we celebrate the women who, despite overwhelming odds, have held onto hope that a brighter future is possible for their loved ones.

Many of these mothers have already endured one of the hardest fates imaginable. They’ve had to watch as their child suffers with a medical condition that they are helpless to treat, which often means leaving school and facing mockery from others. Yet many of the stories of transformation we encounter begin the same way: with a mother who refuses to accept that a life with limitations is the only future for their child. No matter how far the distance or how great their fears, the hope of healing is worth it.

Here are just a few of their incredible stories.


Gamai, plastics patient, helping her mother with laundry and playing at home after surgery.

When Confort heard the piercing screams of her baby daughter, Gamai, a normal morning turned into a mother’s nightmare. One-year-old Gamai had knocked over a pot of boiling water, leading to excruciating burns across her upper body.

“My imagination took me to places a mother dares not go,” said Confort. “I fell to the floor clutching my baby.”

After a trip to the local hospital, Confort was unable to afford any medical care beyond some ointment to treat her baby’s pain.

Over the next few years, Confort watched as the complications of her daughter’s burns led to contracted skin, restricting the mobility of her hands and arms. To protect her from the mockery of strangers, Confort decided to keep Gamai safe from the outside world. The two stayed home together every day, which caused Confort great grief: “I became very sad and angry that this was the way my daughter was going to grow up — hidden from the world.”

But Confort wouldn’t let this be the ending of Gamai’s story. When she heard news that a Mercy Ship was coming to Guinea to provide life-changing surgery, she brought Gamai, now 4 years old, to claim her chance at a different future.

The road to recovery wasn’t easy — in fact, surgery and post-operative rehab were incredibly painful for Gamai. Listening to her daughter cry brought back scarring memories of the accident. But Confort never gave up: “It pains me to hear her hurting, but I know it needs to happen.”

Months later, Gamai’s hands and arms were free to move — and she was free to live her life outside of closed doors, without fear or pain. “I am filled with happiness that being hidden will not be Gamai’s future,” said Confort.


Aicha can finally see her Mum

Aicha was just a few months old when her mother, Fatmata, noticed the telltale signs that something was wrong with her baby’s vision. By the time she started to crawl, visible cataracts had begun to show in Aicha’s eyes.

For Fatmata, the grief of having a blind daughter was paired with the helplessness of being unable to afford surgery to help her. She worked in the market every day with Aicha cradled on her back, overhearing people call her daughter a witch.

Even though Fatmata was afraid of letting strangers touch Aicha, she decided that her hope of healing was stronger than her fear of the unknown. She decided to bring Aicha to a Mercy Ships eye screening, where they were told that she was a good candidate for cataract surgery.

After Aicha’s surgery, this mother’s fear was replaced by complete joy as Aicha began to smile and walk around, looking up at her mother for the first time.

“She was like a new person. She was dancing and laughing… She was sick and now she is healed. I have no words to express how happy I am.”


Francoise lived an experience no mother should have to endure. She watched as her newborn baby, Paul Pascal, inched closer to the brink of death every day. Born with a cleft lip and palate, Paul struggled to drink milk and dropped to a dangerously low weight. “We were so scared … we thought he would die,” said Francoise. She stayed up with her hungry newborn night after night, rocking him as he cried, desperately trying to feed him, fighting for him to survive.

When the Africa Mercy arrived in Cameroon, Francoise rushed her baby to the ship in search of help. The medical staff brought him onboard before the hospital was even officially opened to offer him the critical care that he needed. Her tears of fear turned to tears of joy as her baby blossomed in front of her, his cheeks slowly filling out and his hair growing thick and healthy until he was strong enough to receive cleft lip and palate surgery.

When it came time for the ship to leave Cameroon, Francoise was celebrating a milestone she never thought she would see: her baby’s first birthday. “The Lord has changed the life of Paul and given him a new one!”

Celebrating Mother’s Day

Each of these stories is unique, but these women are not alone. The history of Mercy Ships is filled with courageous, faithful, patient mothers who never gave up hope for their loved ones. The hope of watching their children walk on straight legs, see for the first time, or smile without any limitations. They put it all on the line to trust strangers with the lives of their children — and as a result, we’re able to see lives transformed for patients, families, and entire communities.

Join us in sharing their stories this Mother’s Day!

Celebrating the enduring love of mums around the world

Make a gift on behalf of your Mum

Related Posts

Sharon Walls

A Closer Look at the Mercy Ships Orthopaedic Program

Ousseynou and Assane, brothers, with their mother before surgery.

In New Zealand, we are most familiar the orthopaedic surgery required by our older population, but during each field service in Africa one of the surgical specialties we focus on is Paediatric Orthopaedics. Children come onboard our ships to receive life-altering surgery to correct conditions in their legs and feet. Surgery is typically followed by many weeks of rehabilitation, where our volunteer physical therapists walk patients through every step of recovery. Time and again, we see orthopaedic surgeries freeing our patients into a lifetime unburdened by disability and social stigma. We’ve said it before, and it’s infinitely worth repeating: Free surgery is not the finish line… it’s just the beginning.

For our orthopaedic patients, it’s the start of an unstoppable life. Here’s why.




Addressing a Widespread Need in Africa

Aicha, orthopaedic patient, at home before surgery.

The orthopaedic conditions we treat typically include bowed legs, “knocked” knees, quadricep contractures, and clubfoot. They are musculoskeletal leg deformities, frequently congenital conditions. Often, these are inherited medical conditions that can be exacerbated by environmental factors, like a lack of proper nutrition.

Why is the need so extreme in the countries we serve? Many families in developing countries simply can’t afford or can’t access surgical care to treat the condition at an early stage, whether because of a lack of resources or a lack of adequate care in their country. In most cases, the delay of proper treatment increases the severity of the child’s disability.

The effects of an untreated orthopaedic condition can be devastating. Children suffering from these conditions often find it challenging to do activities like other kids their age, such as walking, running, or playing sports. Because it’s difficult to walk far distances, many of the patients we see find it difficult to regularly go to school. This can lead children to become social outcasts and end their education early — limiting their opportunity to make a living and become independent as adults.

Empowering Patients to Walk into Their Destinies

Mercy Ships strives to meet this need directly by offering free orthopaedic surgery onboard our hospital ships. Our orthopaedic surgical program welcomes children and adolescents suffering from a deformity to receive safe surgery and strengthen their newly straightened legs through our rehab program. The result is so much more than seeing children learn to walk again. We see patients who are unlocked to pursue their full destinies — to return to school, re-engage with society, and regain their confidence after years of feeling different.

Our orthopaedic surgical program has transformed the future of hundreds of patients, like Ulrich and Satou.

Ulrich, a 12-year-old boy from Cameroon, had lived with quadricep contractures for his entire childhood. This condition meant his bones and muscles grew at different rates. Without treatment, his legs had bent almost entirely backwards. He could only walk balancing on his hands and feet, with the help of homemade crutches to get around.

After surgery and physical therapy on the Africa Mercy, Ulrich was able to stand straight for the first time in years, granting his biggest dream of “being tall like the other boys.”

For 8-year-old Satou, surgery on the Africa Mercy was the answer to her family’s years of worrying and praying. Satou’s bowed legs had begun to bend when she was four years old, and the condition worsened over time until she had a hard time running or even walking. Satou had to be carried to school every day. After the operation to straighten her legs, Satou is full of joy and renewed hope for the future.

Training Local Professionals to Meet the Need

Djimby, orthopedic patient, in her rehab session.

Mercy Ships orthopaedic programs don’t end with surgery onboard our hospital ships. We also aim to invest in each host nation’s healthcare systems through our Medical Capacity Building programs.

Each year, around 100,000 babies around the world are born with a clubfoot. In developed countries, this condition is typically treated right away. Under-resourced countries account for 80% of untreated clubfoot conditions. This is where the Ponseti casting method comes in.

Our Ponseti training program partners with local healthcare professionals, equipping them to answer the need for effective clubfoot treatment in their own countries.

Considered the “universal standard” in non-invasive clubfoot correction, the low-cost Ponseti method has a 98% success rate in correcting clubfoot. Mercy Ships trains local surgeons to use this method effectively and trains local partners to manufacture braces for long-term correction.

The Ponseti program has had an impact on many participants like Dr Tsatedem, an orthopaedic surgeon from Cameroon. After receiving training with Mercy Ships in his home country, he travelled to Guinea, West Africa the following year to return to our Ponseti program. This time he helped train a new group of participants. He is using his Ponseti method to not only treat patients but to educate and train many other professionals to do the same.

In the Words of Our Orthopaedic Program Volunteers

 Dr Frank Haydon, an orthopaedic surgeon from the U.S. periodically returned to volunteer with Mercy Ships for nearly a decade. During his years onboard, he performed around 650 surgeries, resulting in many children discovering a new future as they finally walked with straight legs.

“I think most people in America are disconnected from the plight of the poor and are unaware of how well off we are. Our poorest have access to basic healthcare. I feel a duty to provide care and education where it is needed,” said Dr Frank. “[As a Mercy Ships volunteer] you will have a good chance of finding the answer to the basic question of, ‘What is my purpose in life?’”

Volunteers like Aisling Russell (U.K.), the Clubfoot Program Manager during our 2019 field service in Guinea, also got a front-row seat to life-changing transformation. As she led the Ponseti program, she was able to witness its direct impact on patients and training participants alike.

“The Ponseti Method of treating clubfoot is the gold standard treatment method used worldwide. Children who complete treatment are then free from deformity and a life of disability,” said Aisling. “The transformation is obvious, but the lifelong impact is that these children then have a chance to live a life free of shame and the opportunity to work and contribute to their community.”

Discover Your Purpose Today

You can be part of bringing hope and healing to patients like Satou, Ulrich, and so many others! Would you help us continue empowering healthcare professionals and training the next generation of surgeons by using your skills in the team that makes mercy happen?

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Sharon Walls

A chance encounter with a Mercy Ships eye surgeon changed everything.

“I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with Mercy Ships — one that would change my career and the lives of thousands of people.”

Dr Wodome received more than just a fresh perspective on a new medical procedure; the mentoring programme renewed his sense of purpose and potential — and transformed the way he saw his own life calling: “I began to see clearly that I had something to do there in Africa … that God had given me a role to play in the fight against cataract blindness in Togo — and that change was really possible.”

Instead of longing to live overseas, Dr Wodome became passionate about changing lives right there in Wst Africa.


Putting training to the test

In the years after he learned the new method for cataract surgery, Dr Wodome has lived up to his calling — although it has not been without its obstacles. Many barriers stood between him and his newfound vision for his country. Chief among these were inadequate teaching equipment, limited surgical supplies, and financially-strapped patients unable to pay for surgery.

The return of the Africa Mercy to Togo in 2012 bought a fresh wave of hope and hands-on help. Mercy Ships staff, including eye surgeon Dr Glenn Strauss, supported Dr Wodome to find creative solutions to every challenge. This included donating extensive medical equipment to increase surgical capabilities, as well as connecting him with the resources and means to begin a charity and an eye clinic. After getting his facilities off the ground and accumulating all the tools needed to perform effective surgery, Dr Wodome was ready to put the techniques he had learned on board to the test.

By 2017, Dr Wodome’s annual cataract surgeries had quadrupled and represented almost half of Togo’s total ophthalmic surgeries. He continued training other local medical professionals in the same MSICS procedure he’d learned from Mercy Ships. As of 2020, more than 30 ophthalmologists across Togo and Benin have benefited from his program.

Dr Wodome’s clinic, Clinique Ophtalmologique Lumière Divine (COLD), became the premier private clinic for cataract surgeries in the country, performing more than 750 cataract surgeries each year. In a continued spirit of humility and humanitarian care, he uses a large portion of the clinic’s profits to fund his own charity venture. By 2020, the clinic has provided free and dramatically reduced cost cataract surgeries to more than 2,000 people.

In 2021, however, Mercy Ships and Dr Wodome are partnering again to make safe, quality cataract surgery in Togo more accessible than ever before.

Strengthening surgeon training 

While Dr Wodome’s training outcomes have been largely successful, limited time and resource mean only a certain number of participants can receive training. In response to these limitations, Dr Wodome proposed to enhance the training opportunities by setting up an MSICS Teaching Institute at his NGO’s ophthalmology clinic, COLD. The program will streamline his training and give participants access to higher quality resources to both practice and perform surgery.

Through the Institute, it is Dr Wodome’s hope to see improved quality of ophthalmic care in cataract blindness, by facilitating up to 4,000 additional surgeries each year.

Mercy Ships is committed to coming alongside Dr Wodome to make this vision a reality. In order to support the program over a three-year period, we will be funding training costs for 18 participants, donating essential teaching equipment, and contributing to training remotely.

Mercy Ships medical capacity building program creates an invaluable opportunity to partner with government officials and local surgeons in the countries we visit. For more than 30 years, Mercy Ships has collaborated with some of the most driven, dedicated, and talented healthcare professionals across Africa. It is our honour to introduce you to these Heroes of Healthcare, including Togo’s leading ophthalmic surgeon – Dr Abram Wodome.


Leaving a lasting legacy in Togo

More than a decade has passed since Dr Wodome and Mercy Ships first worked together. Due to hands-on training and continued assistance, the MSICS method has become the standard cataract surgical procedure in Togo. Thousands of lives have been changed as a result — and the ripple effects aren’t slowing down any time soon.

It’s a big team that makes mercy happen so please help us build the medical capacity of the nations we serve, with a gift today




Sharon Walls

– HERO OF HEALTHCARE  With a vision to impact ophthalmic care in her nation of Cameroon, Dr Patricia Eyoup Sen spent three months in a surgical mentoring programme that saw her participate in the first of thousands of life-transforming eye surgeries.

Dr Patricia Eyoup receiving yag laser training by Dr Glenn Strauss

When Dr Patricia first came onboard the Africa Mercy, she was a student in our ophthalmic mentoring program participating in surgery for the first time ever. Now — just four years after her first operating theatre experience — Dr Patricia is a leading ophthalmic surgeon who helps thousands of patients annually in Cameroon, West Africa.

The journey between then and now is a testament to Dr Patricia’s resilience and courage. When we first met this young surgeon in 2017, she had spent years studying ophthalmology in hopes of turning her surgical dreams into a reality. She joined a three-month-long mentoring program led by Dr Glenn Strauss, then the leading volunteer ophthalmic surgeon onboard.

Through this capacity building program, Mercy Ships works together with government officials and local medical professionals to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in Africa – and has been doing so for more than 30 years. In that time, Mercy Ships has been introduced to countless talented medical professionals who bring hope and healing to their communities – and the world.

“Patricia was one of those young surgeons who had great talent but needed someone to invest in her. The Mercy Ships eye team provided her with a supportive, encouraging environment to find and develop her gifting as a surgeon,” said Dr Glenn.

During her three months onboard, Dr Patricia participated in more than 300 surgeries. She was the lead surgeon in over half of these, which gave her vital experience to carry forward long after the ship sailed away.

“My experience with the Mercy Ships training program was wonderful,” says Dr Patricia. “I learned a lot, especially regarding cataract surgery.”

Applying Her Training in an Under-Resourced Hospital

After her training onboard the Africa Mercy, Dr Patricia decided to bring her new skills to an eye clinic in a remote regional hospital in northern Cameroon. The hospital had been lacking ophthalmic specialists for almost 20 years. With the help of Mercy Ships staff, Dr Patricia was able to help train nurses in the area, several of whom returned to work in her clinic.

Once the clinic was up and running thanks to equipment donations, Dr Patricia led the way forward in providing care for patients with ophthalmic needs. She spent more than two years performing cataract surgeries during a free surgery campaign, as well as caring for patients with glaucoma and inflammation. Mercy Ships has come alongside her to support the clinic with operating room equipment and microscopes.

Dr Patricia Returns to the Africa Mercy

Less than a year after Dr Patricia’s mentoring, she decided to return to the Africa Mercy. This time, she came onboard as a volunteer surgeon. During her two weeks onboard during the field service in Guinea, West Africa she performed cataract surgeries for 85 patients — which, at the heart of it, is the reason she got into this field in the first place.

“I came back to serve with Mercy Ships in Guinea because I wanted to improve my practice, and I wanted to serve people who need help for blindness,” she said. “I feel blessed to be able to give sight to people. It’s a great opportunity to help people, and I’m very thankful.”

Treating Thousands of Patients Each Year

Dr Patricia has since returned to the port city of Douala, Cameroon, where she works with patients suffering from medical eye pathologies and provides referrals for the surgeries they desperately need. She offers life-changing care to more than 2,000 patients each year.

“Thanks to the surgical technique I learned from Dr Glenn, I was able to improve the quality of life for the people I operated on,” says Dr Patricia. “The lasting impact of Mercy Ships goes far beyond me. All the doctors and nurses that have been trained can go on to help the whole country.”

You can see why we call Dr Patricia Eyoup Sen a Hero of Healthcare!

Sharon Walls

It has been said the central sterile services department is the heart of any hospital. This is true in a New Zealand healthcare context, or on a hospital ship.

Not-for-profit Mercy Ships is staffed by an international volunteer crew dedicated to turning the tide on the lack of safe and timely access to essential surgery in Africa.

For 10 months at a stretch, Mercy Ships is in an African port providing thousands of free services. As well as six surgical specialities, strengthening healthcare systems and building medical capacity with their local colleagues are a priority. These vessels aren’t just floating hospitals, they are also floating training centres.

Louise Hayden was tagged on Facebook by a workmate to an urgent vacancy for a sterilising technician on the Africa Mercy. He jokingly asked, ‘Fancy a cruise, Lou?’ But volunteering had long been on Lou’s radar, so the 50-year-old promptly stepped into a healthcare journey that would impact her both professionally and personally as she volunteered for three weeks in early 2020, aboard the Africa Mercy in Senegal, West Africa.

While on the Mercy Ship Lou maintained some familiar routines like hitting the gym first thing in the morning, while other activities were an interesting mix of life onboard a ship and life at home. Breakfast of a boiled egg and vegemite toast – check. Eating with a hundred others in the dining room before work – not the usual for Lou.

Perfecting the two-minute-shower technique, sharing a living space and bathroom with cabin mates who were also workmates, and learning the ship vocabulary (port is left, right?) required new flexibility, but Lou took it all in her stride as part of her long-awaited volunteer adventure.

The two-minute commute to work (allowing time to stop and chat with a crewmate in the corridor) took Lou to the hospital deck of the Africa Mercy, consisting of five operating theatres, five wards, ICU, auxiliary and technical services. There she joined her CCSD team; ‘Frank, the team leader, is from Sierra Leone, others from Benin and Guinea, and Amadou from Senegal where the ship was docked. He was so friendly and welcoming, and speaks eight languages! Amadou was inexperienced and soaked up everything I taught him about cleaning, disinfecting and sterilising. We have kept in contact and I’m excited to learn he is hoping to sit for the CRCST exam.’

Teamwork is highly valued by Mercy Ships.  The theatre clinical supervisor, theatre team leaders and nurses are in frequent communication with the sterilising team members regarding specific instrumentation needing to be processed for that day’s surgical schedule. The sterilising technicians also interact frequently with the hospital wards and outpatients as all they handle all instruments used there and restock those areas daily.

‘Sometimes stock is held up due to customs issues,’ commented Lou. ‘I learned some valuable tricks for being resourceful without compromising patient safety while remaining compliant with the Standards.

Lou was in a familiar professional environment, as much of the ship’s equipment is similar to that which is used in a New Zealand or Australian CSSD. She explains, ‘In decon there are two pass-through STERIS washer disinfectors, basic ultrasonic, Stella for cleaning and disinfection of intubating bronchoscopes for those difficult airways caused by the unbelievable size of some facial tumours, distilled water line, double sink and a pass-through window.

‘On the clean side there is an air gun, and two STERIS Steam Flush Pressure Pulse sterilisers which were also used as drying cabinets when not in use for sterilising.

‘A ‘terminal’ clean is performed each Friday using Tristel. Everything is wiped down including the ceilings.’

The level of excellence on the hospital ships is often an eye-opener, explains Merry Hoey from Brisbane, the ship’s theatre clinical supervisor. ‘Most volunteers are surprised at the equipment we have on board Mercy Ships; we have the same washer/disinfecting machines and autoclave/sterilisers that are used in western hospitals. We maintain the same standards and keep the same records. PPE is present and used.’

 ‘I want sterile processers to know how vital they are to the provision of surgery; to bringing hope and healing. Their role is key,’ declares Merryl. ‘We have very few wound infections on board the hospital ship – this is due in part to these amazing technicians who volunteer their knowledge and skills.’

Lou says the professional highlights of her service with Mercy Ships were attending the in-service lectures for the crew by volunteer maxilla-facial and reconstructive plastic surgeons, the opportunity to observe a cleft lip surgery, and giving the paediatric patients High Fives as they courageously exercised after their orthopaedic or burns and contracture reconstructive surgeries. Lou is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to volunteer on board again soon.

A new ship – a new hope

In sub-Saharan where Mercy Ships serves, 93% of the population can’t afford surgery, cannot access it, or it is simply not available in their country at any time. In 2020 this need has escalated.

In response to this enormous surgical need, Mercy Ships is preparing to launch a second vessel to serve low-income countries in Africa; the Global Mercy ™  is the world’s largest purpose-built NGO hospital ship.

Soon the 36,000 tonne hospital ship will be undergoing sea trials. But now the search is on for the most important part of the ship – and that critical component, that beating heart need to bring the ship to life; you.

There are volunteer positions available for sterile service technicians aboard the Global Mercy ™  for the first field service , and aboard the Africa Mercy for the vessel’s 2021 return to West Africa.

We know that volunteering is a big ask especially in times like these when uncertainties abound, health and economic challenges are constant and the thought of overseas travel seems impossible.  But we know your hearts are big and you’ll give it some thought. We also know that the journey to service with Mercy Ships takes time and serious consideration which is why, if you are interested in exploring what’s involved, this could be the do-good adventure of your career.

Find more information about volunteering in this role










Sharon Walls

: Changing Lives in Senegal, One at a Time 

Mercy Ships has long been committed to strengthening health systems and providing direct medical services through surgical intervention onboard our hospital ships. But did you know, Mercy Ships is also dedicated to whole-person care?

Since 1997, Mercy Ships has provided education to help participants rebuild, restore, and renew their land and communities through organic agriculture development. Today, we call this life-changing training program Food for Life.

How Food for Life Transforms Communities

The program provides in-depth agricultural training, with special focuses on nutrition and business entrepreneurship. As course participants discover which crops to plant and best tending practices, they also learn how to produce, process, market, and sell their crops.

The result? A sustainable approach to agriculture that has the potential to transform individuals as well as communities. Since 2007, Mercy Ships has led Food for Life courses in 9 African countries, training more than 800 participants.

The impact of the course doesn’t end with its participants. By the end of the program, participants have also learned how to train others with their fresh skills and business acumen. Food for Life graduates are given the resources and tools to go back into their communities and create a ripple effect of transformation as they share their knowledge with other aspiring farmers. This “train-the-trainer” approach is key to our sustainable health systems strengthening model.

In 2021, we will provide another Food for Life training program in Senegal as well as Benin, where we are also partnering with Phaz Compassion to renovate a regional Food for Life campus.

Meet Birima, a Food for Life Student in Senegal

For program participants like Birima, a Food for Life student in Senegal, the opportunity to learn about organic agriculture has been transformational on every level.

The program was Birima’s solution to years of searching. He had looked far and wide for a successful job, even traveling from his home country of Senegal to Morocco. When he heard of an opportunity to participate in the Food for Life training program in late 2019, he decided to join. Throughout the 22-week course, Birima — along with a group of more than 30 fellow students — developed a foundation in the world of agriculture, including agroecology, nutrition, and food processing.

“Having this knowledge allows me to be independent and take care of my own food supply,” says Birima. The course has empowered him to begin his own food production business. He started his venture with the equivalent of $40 — and it has already blossomed into a successful, sustainable business. Currently, Birima’s business produces moringa, a leaf-based powder that’s rich in heart-healthy antioxidants. He is also working on setting up a unit to process other local products, like fresh bissap and baobab juices.

Transforming Communities Through Agriculture

The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t stopped Birima from dreaming big. His plan is to eventually produce infant feeding flour, a product that will help with babies’ strength and early development. Malnutrition is a factor in many of the pediatric cases we treat onboard our ships, often contributing to weakened bones and orthopaedic conditions. By implementing effective agricultural training programs in the nations we serve, Mercy Ships aims to tackle this issue from its root. It is our hope that by collaborating with farmers, food producers, and agroecological workers, we can see better nutrition and healthier food systems in rural areas. Birima’s dream will become part of carrying out this vision for his community in Senegal.

Birima’s greatest lesson wasn’t anything that could be taught in the classroom. It was learning how to train other community members that transformed him with a new confidence. “Because of the training, everywhere I go, everyone listens to me. People ask about and are very interested in agroecology.”

“I was challenged by circumstances,” says Birima, “but through this opportunity to learn how to grow and process food, I have now built a vision for my life.”

Sharon Walls

Ellen from Waipu helped care for Paul Bernard onboard after the reconstructive surgery that restored his ability to use his badly burned arm. The career nurse was deeply touched by this resilient young man, who had suffered with this condition since he was a toddler. Here’s a behind the scenes glimpse into Paul’s journey to healing.

Ellen explains, ‘I first came to know Paul in the treatment room – at the end of the ward corridor on the ship’s hospital deck – a sterile area where all wound care is carried out. Paul Bernard entered hesitantly, not really knowing what to expect. His burn scars were quite extensive, involving both his hands and forearms. The scars he’d had for most of his childhood required surgical release and skin grafting before he would regain the ability to move his arms and hands freely.

Paul was understandably nervous when we removed his dressings (bandages) for the first time after his reconstructive surgery. He sat there quietly gritting his teeth and breathing deeply in anticipation, but with the help of the medical team translator who accompanied him, and with encouragement and reassurance from us all, he slowly relaxed. This treatment took an hour every two days.

Although Paul Bernard was always a little shy and very quiet, we soon learned what music he liked, and as long as that was playing when he came into the treatment room, he relaxed.

Paul’s smile grew as he saw the healing that was taking place, and he started to regain use of his hands.  With healing, his confidence grew. Very soon he was playing games with other patients and would wave as I walked past the ward.

I left the Africa Mercy before Paul Bernard was discharged and other volunteers completed the journey to healing alongside him, so it is heartwarming to read that he made such a great recovery. He is getting on with his life.’

Ellen passed the baton on to others in the Mercy Ships medical crew, confident that Paul Bernard would continue to receive tending loving care of the highest professional standard. But there were many others that were also involved in Paul Bernard’s transformation – electricians, technology specialists, physios, cooks and cleaners. It’s a big team that makes mercy happen!

See Paul Bernard’s transformation story here

Sharon Walls

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to temporarily pause surgical operations onboard our hospital ship in Africa, we’re as steadfast as ever in our mission to serve those in need. In addition to leading virtual medical training courses and donating vital personal protective equipment (PPE) to our partner nations in Africa, we have expanded our on-the-ground operations with a new partnership. We are collaborating with CURE International — a Christian nonprofit organisation that operates a global network of pediatric surgical hospitals — in a joint effort to provide expanded specialised surgical care to children with disabilities in Africa.

Dr Sarah Kwok Brings Her Skills to CURE Hospital in Uganda

As part of this collaboration, Mercy Ships sent several long-time volunteers to share their skills and experience with CURE hospitals across Africa.

Dr Sarah Kwok, a British volunteer anaesthesiologist, spent six weeks volunteering at the CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda, where she treated patients in need of specialised neurological care.

Dr Sarah has served with Mercy Ships as the Anesthesia Supervisor since June 2019. Her decision to join the long-term crew came after spending just two weeks volunteering onboard. The experience was so impacting that she felt compelled to resign from her job as an anaesthetic consultant in the U.K. in order to serve on board full time.

As part of CURE International’s team in eastern Uganda, Dr Sarah worked alongside the anaesthesia team to provide high-quality intensive care for young patients, which she says was an eye-opening experience. “The children often have complex neurological problems, which makes caring for them challenging. By walking alongside the team here, we are setting high standards of care and ensuring the patients get the very best they deserve. The team is transforming lives and giving patients a future filled with hope and expectations of a normal life.”

In addition to treating patients, Dr Sarah helped to train nurses and doctors at the hospital, as well as medical students at the local university. This desire to leave a lasting impact is central to the mission and vision of Mercy Ships, and it’s a goal that CURE International shares. The CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda is a teaching centre for paediatric neurosurgery in sub-Saharan Africa. “The hospital is a regional centre of excellence and frequently has visitors from all over Africa coming to learn their surgical techniques,” said Dr Sarah. “CURE Uganda is dedicated to training the next generation of doctors, neurosurgeons, and anaesthesiologists.”

The ability to continue helping under-served patients during this time is an experience Dr Sarah doesn’t take for granted: “I’m so grateful that Mercy Ships has collaborated with CURE so that together, we can continue to provide medical care to the forgotten poor in various countries in Africa.”

By sharing our resources with CURE International, we can offer further treatment to vulnerable children in African countries that lack the medical infrastructure and safe surgical care they need. Without proper medical resources, many children living with disabilities can’t afford vital care, leading to a long and expensive wait for surgery. Our partnership with CURE International means that both of our organisations can continue addressing the global surgery crisis and provide essential services to patients who need immediate, life-changing care.